If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
— Dalai Lama
In the Epilogue to Better Than Good: Creating the Life You Can’t Wait to Live, Zig Ziglar said that a very long time ago, he learned the answer to the question, “What would you change in your life if you had it to live over?” When asked this, one woman replied that she wouldn’t change anything because that meant that she wouldn’t be where she was now and she loved where she was right then. It made me wonder whether I love where I am right now. And for me, the most telling part of my answer comes from what happened to me this morning. (More about that later.)
I am reaching the conclusion that most of us don’t ever receive enough compassion or understanding. I think that’s why we’re so attached to our stories. We’re always trying to get people to care about us. If they just understood how much we’ve been through, then they’d know that we deserve their compassion and understanding.
Make Someone Happy
In Happy for No Reason, Marci Schimoff and Carol Kline tell the story of a woman who at 49 was very restricted by her lupus and scleroderma. She needed either a walker or a cane just to get to the mailbox to pick up her mail. The doctors had told her that she could go into heart failure at any time and any twinge in her chest panicked her – even though at times she just wanted it to end quickly. She had been reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books on Buddhism and when she got an opportunity to visit a Buddhist teacher she snapped it up. She met one-on-one with the teacher and told him her story. Instead of overflowing with compassion and understanding, he was very direct with her. He told her to stop focusing on herself and instead to focus on the happiness of others. This was not what she expected or wanted, but she had enough respect for the teacher that she decided that she would try it.
You can imagine how hard this would be for someone who was in constant pain and unable to get around easily. Even so, she began to pray for friends and family members. Then, she expanded to strangers. She observed the people around her and began to try to figure out how she could make a difference in their day – a little bit of money to a homeless person, letting someone else go ahead of her in line. Being able to have even a small effect on making another person happy made her feel happy.
And while she was busy focusing on other people, she got better. Her pain lessened and her mobility increased. She hadn’t tried this because she thought it would heal her, she tried it because someone who she considered to be wise suggested it as a way to live her life. Healing wasn’t part of the initial equation… and yet it became the result.
This is My Path
We often cling to our stories as if they are life rafts. I don’t know about you, but I know that for me, part of what I want when I tell my story is acknowledgement that what I have gone through is “worse” than “most people” – whoever they are. If I’m going to suffer, I should at least get credit – my time as the center of attention – whatever. Empathy is great. Yet, at times I think I probably overdo it. I get into a “poor me” rut and by telling everyone my story, the rut gets deeper.
This is not to say that telling our stories is bad. There are lots of good reasons to tell others our stories:
- Looking for suggestions on how to handle a challenge (Have you ever had to deal with this kind of thing?)
- Making concrete suggestions for solving a problem (I have a plumber who…)
- Giving hope that the other person can get through their tough times (I know that’s tough. When I was going through it, this helped.)
I said that I’d tell you more about what happened to me this morning. It turned out to be much ado about nothing. When I turned on the water to take a shower, there was no hot water. I know because the first thing I do is put the controller all the way to the left to bring up the hot water. When I did that this morning, there was literally nothing. It wasn’t that the water never got warm, there was no water at all coming out of the faucet. If I went to the cold side, there was plenty of water, just none on the hot side. Very quickly I jumped to the conclusion that I was going to have to spend a fortune on fixing the plumbing. And last weekend I’d had to buy two new tires – not on sale. Woe is me!!!
Back to our regularly scheduled programming (post)… First, what happened this morning isn’t really relevant to whether I love where I am right now. I did what some of us do sometimes, I made it into a poor me story. In reality, it’s a speed bump – a little problem. I’m good at solving problems – nothing that I can’t handle.
Second, I guess that’s the answer to whether I’d change anything if I had my life to live over. In bad times, I think I would change some things. But in the end, I know why I made the choices I made. I believe this is the path I’m supposed to walk and if I don’t exactly love it, I accept it. For now, that’s good enough.
P.S. The plumbing problem really did turn out to be nothing. My water softener had a problem. I used the bypass and I got my hot water back. Yippee!!